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Secularizing Religious Practices: A Study of Subjectivity and Existential Transformation in Naikan Therapy

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Adapted from a Shin Buddhist style of meditation, Naikan (“inner-looking”) is a week-long contemplative practice that involves reviewing one's life from the perspectives of others and has been called an indigenous Japanese psychotherapy due to its effectiveness in treating a variety of disorders. Data collected during an extended ethnographic study of Naikan in both Japan and Austria reveal that Naikan, a “secularized” practice that removes overtly Buddhist references and practices, effects changes in clients’ subjectivity that are strikingly similar to those sought after in Buddhist traditions. This suggests that Naikan operates therapeutically on an existential level and employs cognitive techniques that, while originating in Buddhism, remain efficacious outside a Buddhist context. The potential for certain contemplative practices to effect transformations of subjectivity across religious and cultural contexts may be greater than commonly assumed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology Emory University

Publication date: March 1, 2010


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